On October 6, Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel and contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen (professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton) sat down in Moscow for a wide-ranging discussion with Edward Snowden. Throughout their nearly four-hour conversation, which lasted considerably longer than planned (see below for audio excerpts), the youthful-appearing Snowden was affable, forthcoming, thoughtful and occasionally humorous. Among other issues, he discussed the price he has paid for speaking truth to power, his definition of patriotism and accountability, and his frustration with America’s media and political system. The interview has been edited and abridged for publication, compressing lengthy conversations about technological issues that Snowden has discussed elsewhere.
The Nation: It’s very good to be here with you. We visit Moscow often for our work and to see old friends, but you didn’t choose to be in Russia. Are you able to use your time here to work and have some kind of social life? Or do you feel confined and bored?
Snowden: I describe myself as an indoor cat, because I’m a computer guy and I always have been. I don’t go out and play football and stuff—that’s not me. I want to think, I want to build, I want to talk, I want to create. So, ever since I’ve been here, my life has been consumed with work that’s actually fulfilling and satisfying.
The Nation: You have everything you need to continue your work?
Snowden: Yes. You know, I don’t spend all day running hand-on-hat from shadowy figures—I’m in exile. My government revoked my passport intentionally to leave me exiled. If they really wanted to capture me, they would’ve allowed me to travel to Latin America, because the CIA can operate with impunity down there. They did not want that; they chose to keep me in Russia.
The Nation: We understand you’re not a person who gives a high priority to social life, but do you have some here in Moscow?
Snowden: Yeah, I’ve got more than enough for my needs, let’s put it that way.
The Nation: If you feel like just getting together and chatting with people, you can?
Snowden: Yeah, I can. And I do go out. I’ve been recognized every now and then. It’s always in computer stores. It’s something like brain associations, because I’ll be in the grocery store and nobody will recognize me. Even in my glasses, looking exactly like my picture, nobody will recognize me. But I could be totally clean-shaven, hat on, looking nothing like myself in a computer store, and they’re like, “Snowden?!”
The Nation: Are they friendly? Are they generally young people?